Conquering Fear and the Gift of Fortitude

‘Fortitude’ isn’t a word we use much nowadays. We tend to opt for ‘courage’ or ‘bravery’, or if we want to be a trifle grandiloquent, ‘valour’. But fortitude, the fourth gift of the Holy Spirit, and the one for which we pray today, has a very precise meaning. It is the strength and courage that enables us to overcome fear and pain in adversity: the courage of the martyr bearing witness to Truth, of Christ on the Cross. There is nothing reckless or daredevil about fortitude. It does not make us seek out danger or act irrationally. St Thomas Aquinas ranks fortitude as the third cardinal virtue, one which serves prudence and justice. It is thus an enabler. We see what we ought to do by exercising the virtues of prudence and justice, then fortitude enables us to do it without giving way to crippling fear.

Perhaps today, as we pray for this gift of the Spirit, we could reflect on our lives and the occasions when we have confused fortitude with sheer bravado or when we have presumed on the presence of the Holy Spirit in a way that was anything but godly. Fortitude gives us the courage to face the truth about ourselves; and once we can face that, I suspect we can face anything.

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6 thoughts on “Conquering Fear and the Gift of Fortitude”

  1. Thank you for this. In reading the final sentence I thought of Isaiah’s vision and commission and his words “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Is. 6:5).

  2. Thank you, Sister Catherine.
    I have been contemplating the idea of perseverance … but feel fortitude covers it better! But whichever, I feel a clear lack of it.
    As an aside, there is also the concept of longsuffering, which I am reminded of every time I think of my younger daughter. She was born in isolated rural Uganda, and our local friends named her E’yotaru – in the main local language, Lugbara, this means Longsuffering!

  3. How these pieces encourage a train of thought. Like ‘though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death yet will I fear no evil for thou art with me…’ The valley of the shadow can be more frightening g than the thing itself – and to me, that is where fortitude comes in. Not knowing how something is going to end but keeping going somehow. In my personal experience of this I was fortunate to escape most of the worst that could have happened and I gained a knowledge of God that has stayed with me ever since. But I also learned about fortitude. The need to accept, to keep going and, in modern parlance ‘to hang in there’.

  4. Now you have said it it seems odd that the word fortitude sems to have dropped out of common usage. It does seem archaic and i am not sure why. What it means is very important – so much these days bravery is something to do with risk taking and heroes are simply celebrities. People I have known who exhibit fortitude are to be admired. I am humbled and slightly envious – they have a strength I fear I might not posses in their circumstances. I should pray not to envy but to be given the gift of fortitude when I will (inevitably) need it at some time of trial/distress. Having watched a good friend suffer and die yet retain care for others, true dignity and a sense of humour in spite of dreadful pain and anguish, I know fortitude is there and that the Spirit (The aspect of God I find so hard to know) does indeed grant that gift.

    • Thank you. You have said so much in a little about fortitude; but don’t worry, we’re given the grace we need when we need it, not before or in an abstract way. I find that thought a great comfort when I’m feeling particularly weak and wobbly. I hope you do, too.

  5. I’m glad to be reminded that the grace comes when we need it! For me, the essence of this gift is the “strength” from the Latin root of the word, the strength to face what comes to me with courage.

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